Thursday, February 25, 2010


Perhaps it is inevitable with the promise of spring and its attendant creatures, but I have been reading a bit of Fabre again lately. That was why I was quite excited when I found the trailer below, for a documentary which was filmed at the naturalist's home, now a museum, in Sérignan.

Fabre was fairly advanced in years when he was finally able to purchase this site of his own "laboratory in the open fields." In one of the best passages of all his writing, he hints at the lifetime of hopes and hard work that brought him to Sérignan, but more than this, the sentences spell out a deep and contagious delight over the minute wonders of his new paradise. Every paragraph bursts with a thousand living, moving things below the sun--so much so that I suspect, all its other charms aside, the chapter might convince a reader that he was enjoying the same sun on the darkest day of winter.

Upon finding the video, I was so delighted to see the place, live, as it were (and to look at the creepy-crawlies), that I spent the first viewing savouring, more than I did paying proper attention . It was only after I thought about putting it up here on the blog that I realized, as far as narration goes, I could claim to understand maybe a dozen words in three-odd minutes--it's entirely in French and German. (On the upside, you can hear how "Fabre" is pronounced in French.)

But, a beetle is a beetle the world over, three scant minutes is scarcely too long to be taking in the sights of such a historical garden, and, speaking from experience, I can state that it definitely doesn't take bilingualism to appreciate the clip at 1:54 where the illustrator Christian Thanhäuser demonstrates his artistic skill in careful, exquisite ink.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Gloomy Winter's Noo Awa'*

*Caveats with title: 1.) I wasn't finding it particularly gloomy, 2.) It came back after I got the pictures.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Palio di Siena

Last night, for the first time, I read about the Palio di Siena, a traditional horse-race in which various Sienese neighbourhoods, or contrade compete against each other. The race itself sounds intense, but the seventeen contrade themselves are even more fascinating, each with a very long local history, and a long memory to hold it. Every district has its own banner depicting the symbol that gives it its name. The banner that most captured my imagination was, naturally, that of Bruco, a contrada named for the caterpillar that was the basis of the local silk industry.

I never would have heard of the Palio, but for my mother mentioning a lovely eyefull of Italian ceramics, a company called Biordi. They have an entire series of contrade crests (on plates, plates priced so that you wouldn't want to drop them, to say the least) here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

'S Ioma' Rud a Chunna Mi

Last week I saw a couple of things which I found peculiarly memorable. The first was a bird, or rather, two birds, which were hunting over the park. I never got close enough for a clear look at them--the closest was scouring a meadow a good two hundred yards from where I was standing--and I don't know that it would have done much good if I had. They were definitely birds of prey, but not of a type I was familiar with, appearing almost entirely white (from my distance), with black wingtips.

The one I had in sight the longest would circle for a while above the meadow, languidly, as though he had never had the need to do any serious flying in his life. When he spotted something of interest in the grass below him, however, the languor exploded into a flurry of white feathers as he hovered frenetically over the site where his next meal might be scurrying about. Having ascertained the location of breakfast, he would drop a graceful twenty feet or so, and hover again, an indistinct, though frantic flicker of white, like a cloud of apple blossoms caught up in a whirlwind. Sometimes the closer look told him that breakfast wasn't worth the trouble after all (or that breakfast had gone scurrying off into its little breakfast-burrow) and he would return to the heights. Once, however, he seemed to catch a glimpse of something worth his trouble. He folded his wings and dropped, a keen, deadly, hurtling weight, the point of an arrow nearing its target. His dive, however, was in vain, and for a time he appeared ungainly, far out of his element, as he struggled to take to the air again.

After some time the second hawk, which had been hunting beyond the trees, reappeared, and the pair settled momentarily in the top of a very tall oak. For perhaps thirty seconds, they were very picturesque, even regal, gazing distantly at the world spread below them. One thing their sharp eyes apparently missed, however, was a very indignant red-shouldered hawk, an impressive bird in its own right, but only two thirds the size of either of those seated in the oak, at best. It came boiling up from somewhere in the trees and appeared suddenly at their feet. You might guess the altercation would be a short one, given the odds, and it was. The two larger birds endured a dive or two from the outraged hawk, then took off for calmer skies. The scrappy victor settled onto their vacated perch with an affronted shrug or two, then seeing his domain unchallenged, he decided that he didn't need that particular vantage after all, and went off to find a better one.
* * * * *
The second thing I saw was in a more mundane setting, which made it all the more grand. I was walking across the parking lot at Target when I saw a man, dressed to the nines in a splendid suit and tie. He was a very distinguished, professional-looking gentleman, old enough to know better than to ride the shopping cart like a scooter. Which is what he was doing, and doing it quite well, with a good deal of gusto and a wonderful lack of self-consciousness.

Friday, February 19, 2010


If you just can't get enough major 7th chords. . .well, you probably still won't get enough here, but you'll rarely hear them used to better effect. The guitarist is Per-Olov Kindgren; the piece is Stanley Myers' "Cavatina."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Perfect Pages

My friend Maria sent me a link to this page some weeks ago, and it's high time some other folks got a look at it. In fact it's one of those things that is better shown, than explained, so wander over to see how an art student used Tolkien's Silmarillion for his senior project. (Hint: lots and lots of calligraphy. Lots of very good calligraphy. I think it's pretty high in the running for the definiton of "beautiful.")

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Remember, Man. . .

This is a round of pictures I took out in the old Catholic cemetery in Folsom last month. As you can see, they're not the most cheerful lot ever, but they seem to fit Ash Wednesday pretty well, come to think of it.

The most noticeable thing about the cemetery was the number of Irish who were buried there. "Native of--" seemed to be a requisite on every tombstone. The one below, for example, memorialises Joseph McDonald, A Native of Co. Meath, Ireland. One of the few non-Irish stones was that of Frank Antonio, who was from the Azores.
Something was particularly poignant about the geographical detail on John Burke's tombstone: Native of Talbots in the parish of the Bulls, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.
The Connellys were from Co. Tyrone.

Possibly the most eloquent of the tombstones was one in a family plot, commemorating a "native of Co. Galway". Near him, his daughter was memorialised as "native of California." There was food for thought about the distance that lay between the homeland of one and that of the other, and what might have brought the man from Galway across so many miles that he became father to a Californian.

The day happened to be one of a very dark grey variety. The sky itself was thick and heavy as stone, so colourless that, though you walked on wet, green grass, you somehow came away with the impression that the grass, too, was grey. The leafless trees were grey. The old church, with its once-white paint peeling off along the siding, was grey. But against this setting, an ambitious rose had taken root, and was blooming--most definitely not in grey.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Le Vent du Nord

I've been listening to Le Vent Du Nord quite a bit lately. They're from Quebec, and I don't understand a word they are saying, but I love the fiddling, and the hearty voices and think the habit of making percussion with your feet while you sing (very prevelant in Quebecois music, evidently) is a grand idea. You can watch a few video clips at the website above, or just light into listening at the MySpace page.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Lovely Shots of Nearly Everything

By way of easing back into posting (I hope) here is a neat page one of my kinfolk recently showed me. It's the gallery of a photographer named Judd Patterson, who specializes in nature shots. Although I do think the insect gallery is pretty nifty (not the least, a shot of a sphinx moth caught in mid-flight!) I shall refrain from playing favourites--frankly it's a little hard to get even near to choosing a run-away best of show. Some very beautiful lighting, composition and perspectives, to say the least.